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Mon May 27 2024

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Parliament’s board backs case for refurbishment

20 Mar The long-running saga of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster rumbles on.

©UK Parliament
©UK Parliament

It is an accepted fact that the Houses of Parliament are not fit for purpose: crumbling, leaking, faulty wiring, rat-infested – insert your own metaphors here.

However, the politicians who work there cannot bring themselves to sign off the vast sums of money required to make their workplace fit for occupation. They also struggle with the fact that they may well have to pack their bags and move out for several years while essential repairs are carried out.

This has been going on for years. Meanwhile the maintenance bill has escalated to £2m a week. Over recent years projects have included spending £140m on temporary fire safety improvements and £8m on temporary sewerage.

Just removing asbestos from the Palace could take 300 people working for two and a half years.

A report prepared in 2015 by Deloitte Real Estate with Aecom and HOK put the cost of essential refurbishment work at £3.5bn if the Palace is decanted for six years and builders can work freely. If everyone stays on site, it would cost £5.7bn and take 32 years to get the job done. There were also options in between, such as decanting the Lords first, and then the Commons. The cost of the actual buildings work itself makes up just £1bn of the total, in either case, that report said, nine years. You can probably double those numbers today.

More recently, in 2020 parliament set up a sponsor body, the Restoration & Renewal (R&R) Client Board (as it became last year), and a delivery authority, the Programme Board, to move it forward.

This week the R&R Client Board – made up of the Commissions of both Houses of Parliament – has endorsed the strategic case for restoration & renewal, agreeing to further detailed work on plans to ensure the Palace of Westminster can remain the home of both Houses of Parliament for future generations.

The plan is to have fully costed proposals brought to parliament next year to enable members to choose their preferred way forward. The three options that will make up the costed proposals are: 

  • A full decant option
  • A continued presence option
  • A rolling programme of works to deliver enhanced maintenance and improvement. 

Full decant

Under the full decant option, both Houses would leave the Palace and relocate nearby on a temporary basis while the majority of the works are completed. For the House of Commons, the Chamber and associated support functions would temporarily relocate to Richmond House, alongside continuing use of the rest of the Northern Estate (from Portcullis House to Norman Shaw North).

The preferred location for temporary decant of the House of Lords would be the nearby QEII Conference Centre building, while continuing to make use of the existing Southern Estate (Millbank House, Fielden House and Old Palace Yard).

The House of Commons Chamber would be prioritised for return to the Palace after eight years, at which point it is expected that the works would be sufficiently complete to enable this. House of Commons support functions would return after nine or ten years. The House of Lords would return after 11 years, once the works are complete.

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Continued presence

The second option for delivery of R&R that will be taken forward for further detailed work involves a continued presence of the House of Commons Chamber and essential support functions in the Palace throughout the works. The House of Lords would temporarily move out of the Palace until the works are complete, with the QEII Conference Centre being the preferred venue for this relocation. Other House of Commons functions currently based in the Palace would be relocated elsewhere on the existing House of Commons Estate.

As with the full decant option, timings are indicative at this stage but based on work undertaken to date, it is expected that those House of Commons support areas that do not need to remain in the Palace would be based elsewhere for approximately 10 years.

As with the full decant option, the expectation under the continued presence option would be for the House of Lords to relocate for the entirety of the main works. However, under this option the Lords would be out for 17 years, with the longer timeframe necessitated by the works taking longer to complete overall with a continued presence of the Commons Chamber and essential support functions.

Rolling works

In addition to the options shortlisted by the Programme Board, the Client Board has commissioned studies into a third option of enhanced maintenance and improvement of the Palace, which would be delivered as part of a rolling, sequenced, programme of works. This option will be worked up in greater detail and assessed against the same criteria as the two shortlisted options above. Once this work is complete, all three options will be presented to MPs and the House of Lords.

A rolling programme of enhanced maintenance and improvement would be likely to take longer than the other two options to restore the Palace, and benefits could take longer to realise, the Client Board said. However, balanced against this would be the ability to have greater parliamentary control over the programme, with work likely to be broken down into phases, enabling the programme to be more responsive to evolving needs and requirements throughout the duration of the works.

Estimates have not yet been produced for the various options. A final decision on how to deliver R&R is expected to be taken in 2025, once the three options outlined in this report have been worked up into fully costed proposals.

It is estimated that construction of temporary Chamber accommodation venues for one or both Houses—depending on the option finally chosen—would aim to start in 2026.

Or it could all just get kicked into the long grass again when the decision-making becomes too difficult. After all, both Houses voted in 2018 to move out and let the builders in, but it never happened,

Meanwhile, masses of money is being spent on all of this without the real work even starting. Over the past four year, since the current client body/delivery team structure was set up, £380m has been spent on consultants and meetings.

The strategic case document can be found on the Client Board’s website:

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